Wine tasting on the Plaza

Editor:Public review of wine tasting on the Plaza is good. The longer it takes, the more interested parties can connect the dots and figure out what the issues are. The Planning Commission has been tasked to find solutions to unregulated growth of wine tasting and drinking venues. So far this has resulted in the definition of three different types of wine tasting facilities, two of which, wine bars and expanded tasting rooms, will be (or are already) required to pass a permit threshold. Requiring a permit review is where limitation and control of numbers and proportions can take place.

For the third type of tasting room, a basic tasting room, the parameters of the situation are more complicated. Apparently a winery or a vineyard can get a Type 2 permit and ‘by right’ provide tasting of their own products only. When they start to offer other wines and intensifying hours, events and food, then they will cross a threshold where they will need a use permit. As things stand now, the basic tasting facility needs no special permit review apropos of drinking and is treated as a regular business.

The Planning Commission has established some parameters for basic tasting rooms: they keep normal business hours, have 1000 square feet or less, have a proscribed number of events, can serve only prepackaged food. At issue is whether or not to allow expanded seasonal hours. Three out four commissioners are against expanded seasonal hours. These and the above parameters are now forwarded to the city council as the solution asked for many months ago.

Meanwhile seemingly every new vacant storefront has wine tasting moving in. The proliferation problem has not abated. A wine industry representative has been intensively lobbying the Planning Department to dilute limitations as much as possible. The premise that there is no problem is still the standard industry line.

I’ve followed this issue closely and the specifics are difficult to master. The process seems to be stuck in the details and I really can’t tell if the overall effect of the Planning Commission’s recommendation will be to limit proliferation of tasting rooms or not. If I’m way off base in my analysis here it would be great if a commissioner or two would publicly articulate where things stand before the city council vote.

An additional issue is that small, local tasting facilities are in a market where Plaza rents run well over $100,000 a year. Mega-corporate interests could easily come in, run all the fun local guys out and the Plaza be left with only a façade of indigenous character. This is a real possibility. Would these mega-wine conglomerates be ‘formula’ stores?

Trying to get a handle on managing the town square is a complex business. Issues of intensified tourism, wine dominance and mono-economy are still at stake here with the current proxy battle concerning the flavor of the heart of town.

Fred Allebach
Vineburg


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